Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Tuesday, 25 June 2013

When is a farm not a farm?

When it is a New Zealand farm where the animals are yak, zebra and giraffe not cows and sheep; where the birds are emu and ostrich not hens; and where the main attraction is art, not agriculture. 

Bernar Venet's towering 27 metre tall 88.5° ARC x 8 is visible before you enter the gate to Gibbs Farm
In 1991 New Zealand businessman and entrepreneur  Alan Gibbs bought 1,000 acres overlooking the Kaipara harbour, 50 kilometres north of Auckland.  Over the past 20 plus years the land has been developed into a private sculpture park on a very grand scale.   Gibbs Farm is not only one of New Zealand's best kept secrets, it is one of the foremost sculpture parks in the world. .  

No kidding.   I  confess when I test this assertion by googling " foremost sculpture parks in the world" it doesn't pop up.  However, when a blogger's list of 10 extraordinary sculpture parks features the Lithuanian Museum of Ancient Bee-keeping, it tells me that's a search engine issue - it does nothing to dampen my certainty that Gibbs Farm is up there with the Storm King collection sited north of New York.  

In fact the Gibbs collection and Storm King feature several of the same internationally renown artists, including Richard Serra, Andy Goldsworthy and George Rickey.  Gibbs Farm collects works at a rate of about one a year and the sculptures tend to be unique and site specific.  In general the very large works can take several years to develop and install, and significant site landscaping is essential.  It must be a sculptor's dream to receive a phone call from Alan Gibbs, as it appears money is no object.  On the contrary, it is simply an instrument to deliver your vision. 

Te Tuhirangi Contour 
If you think you have seen large scale installations at art galleries, think again.  

In recent years I have seen two Richard Serra works: one in the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim in Bilbao - this building is a stunning sculpture in itself  - and the other in rather less prepossessing, but still brilliant, MoMA in New York (yes, I know, I'm such a name dropper).  

Te Tuhirangi Contour  from above

At Gibbs Farm, Serra's 252 metre long, 6 metre high  Te Tuhirangi Contour snakes across the curves of the land and dwarfs both earlier works.  Its 56 Corten steel plates lean out by 11 degrees from vertical and you feel simultaneously protected and vulnerable standing in their lee.  

Yet when you climb the hill above, those tonnes of steel look no more daunting than a piece of fabric tossed carelessly by some giant hand. 

One of my favourite works is Neil Dawson's Horizons.  The arty blurb says the work suggests "a giant piece of corrugated iron blown in from a collapsed water tank on some distant farm".  More prosaically I'd say it suggests a giant empty fruit bowl nestled on top of the hill. 

Neil Dawson's Horizons
As with all the works, the shape and orientation change:  you see them from a distance and then the form alters as you close in and move around each work.  

This is never more true than with the stunning red skewed trumpet that is Anish Kapoor's Dismemberment, Site 1.  This massive (85 metres long, 8m by 25m at each end) installation inserts into the landscape and stretches through the hill into the valleys. 

Dismemberment, Site 1 viewed from the western side

viewed to the east and Kaipara Harbour

Despite it being a rather dull, overcast day when we visit, it is a singular experience.  Gibbs Farm is a place where words such as awesome, spectacular, amazing and incredible are truisms not hackneyed expressions.  It is easy to spend several hours walking up and down the slopes to view different works and stumble on another piece hidden from view by a hill or corner. 

It is terrific that Gibbs chooses to open the Farm to the public one day a month for several months each year.  You need to book through the website (which is unfortunately undergoing a revamp as I write this) and the truly great part about this is, to visit is totally free. There is no entry fee, no request for donations, simply no charge!   

Yes, we might cynically suggest that it's no skin off his nose, given he lives in London now; and that over the years he has made a good part of his fortune thanks to the New Zealand taxpayer and so should dispense his largesse - in the early 1990s Gibbs and his business partner were the brokers for the public float of Telecom, a deal worth $4.25 billion which also saw them take a 5% holding in the company.  Nonetheless, he doesn't have to let hoi polloi onto his property.  And you do have to admire the passion of a man who has stuck his neck on the line many times in the pursuit of his dreams - and not always successfully.   We should just be delighted by his patronage of the arts - I am, and  plan to return to the Farm and again be awed by his grand design.

Rakaia by Peter Nicholls "a response in title and braided form to the Rakaia river, near the birthplace of Alan Gibbs".

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